India’s Defense Boost: Acquisition of 31 MQ-9B Drones to Elevate Security and Surveillance Capabilities

The United States has granted approval for the sale of 31 MQ-9B armed drones to India, amounting to nearly $4 billion. This strategic acquisition is expected to significantly enhance India’s ability to address current and future threats through unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in maritime zones. The comprehensive drone agreement was announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic State Visit to the US in June 2023.

As per the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) statement, the State Department has officially sanctioned a potential Foreign Military Sale of MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft and associated equipment to the Government of India, with an estimated value of approximately $3.99 billion. The DSCA further confirmed that the required certification informing Congress of this potential sale was issued on Thursday.

The proposed sale aligns with the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by strengthening the US-Indian strategic relationship and enhancing the security of a significant defense partner. This partnership is crucial for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region, according to the agency. The acquisition is expected to improve India’s capability to counter current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation.

India’s procurement of these long-endurance drones aims to bolster the surveillance capabilities of its armed forces, particularly along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. Under the agreement, India will receive 31 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, including 15 SeaGuardian drones for the Navy, and eight each of the land version SkyGuardian for the Army and the Indian Air Force.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency commended India for demonstrating a commitment to modernizing its military and expressed confidence that the country will seamlessly integrate these articles and services into its armed forces. The proposed sale is not anticipated to alter the fundamental military balance in the region or have an adverse impact on US defense readiness.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems will serve as the principal contractor for this significant drone acquisition. While the timeline for US Congressional approval remains uncertain, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller highlighted the routine consultation with Congress members on foreign affairs committees before formal notification. These discussions have been ongoing as part of negotiations between American and Indian government officials, with the proposed procurement featuring prominently in talks between US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in November.

The Defence Acquisition Council, chaired by Singh, had granted initial approval for the acquisition of 31 MQ-9B drones under the foreign military sale route in June of the previous year. The SeaGuardian drones, capable of diverse roles such as maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare, will be employed across the three services. These High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones boast an impressive airborne endurance of over 35 hours and can carry four Hellfire missiles and approximately 450 kgs of bombs.

In 2020, the Indian Navy had leased two MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones from General Atomics for surveillance in the Indian Ocean, with the lease subsequently extended. The proposed acquisition signals a significant stride in strengthening the defense capabilities and strategic partnership between the United States and India.